Lew Moreing kept city’s baseball dreams alive
By R.E. Graswich
Barstow is not a beautiful place to die. But that’s what happened to Lew Moreing.
Moreing was a celebrity in Sacramento, a pivotal figure in the city’s baseball history. I thought about him the other day when I realized he’d disappeared from the consciousness of local sports fans and everyone else.
Nobody attending a River Cats game today would recognize his name, or know what he did to save baseball in Sacramento.
Moreing died at home in Barstow, a Mojave Desert railroad town, in 1935. He had a heart attack. His wife Edith checked on him one May morning. She found him barely alive. She called a doctor, but help arrived too late.
Today he’s forgotten. But for decades after his death, anyone who knew anything about local baseball would know the Moreing legend.
In 2005, Bee sportswriter and baseball authority Mark McDermott declared Moreing the second most influential baseball person in Sacramento history. Moreing’s significance was eclipsed only by Art Savage, who brought the River Cats to town in 2000.
Moreing was a creative businessman whose interests spread from railroads to farming to mineshafts. His contributions to local baseball went like this:
In December 1919, the Senators, the city’s Pacific Coast League team, were bankrupt and poised to move. Sacramento was the smallest town in the league and couldn’t support a decent professional team. Buffalo Park, a grandstand at Broadway and Riverside, held just 6,000.
Operators from bigger cities swooped in to buy and move the Senators. A group of local merchants, led by Leo Lobner, owned the club. Lobner wasn’t a baseball guy. He ran a clothing store. Outsiders dangled $33,000 as a Senators purchase price. Temptation ran high.
Lew Moreing had other ideas. He offered to save the Senators, cover their $14,000 debt, and build a new stadium at Buffalo Park. The merchants, not ready to be vilified for losing the town’s ball club, sold to Moreing.
The new owner was shrewd. He convinced PCL owners to give him 45% of road gate receipts, rather than the standard 40%, to acknowledge Sacramento’s small size. He required visiting teams to play Sunday morning games against the Senators in Stockton for zero box office share.
Moreing was serious about his new ballpark. In 1922, he enlarged capacity to 10,000, rejuvenated concession areas and built a department store-style restroom for women, a luxury in baseball. Naturally, he changed the name from Buffalo Park to Moreing Field. Total costs exceeded $100,000.
The Senators became profitable for Moreing and his brother Charley, who worked in the front office. The community supported the team. Moreing found other ways to make money, mostly by selling Senators players to major league clubs.
In 1930, creativity sparked when Moreing learned a stadium in Des Moines, Iowa, debuted night baseball. If Des Moines could perform under lights, why not Sacramento? He ordered $10,000 in poles and lamps for Broadway and Riverside. Three weeks later, the Senators played the first night game on the West Coast.
The Great Depression ended Moreing’s adventure. Crowds shrank, debts grew. By 1934, Moreing was unable to pay bills related to his multiple businesses. Bankers foreclosed and seized the Senators. The team cycled through ownerships and moved to Honolulu in 1960.
Those are the contours of Moreing’s story. But his life transcended sports.
Born in Stockton to a father who rode a covered wagon into California, Moreing inherited his family’s grain and ranching business. He helped his dad build a 30-mile railroad from Stockton to a coal mine west of Tracy. After moving to Sacramento in 1910, he and brother Charley farmed 30,000 acres in Natomas, where the Kings would one day play.
Moreing headed to Barstow in 1934 to resurrect his mining career. He was rebuilding his fortune when he died at age 63.
Friends organized a charity game for Edith at Moreing Field. They raised $2,250. The widow sold the family home in the 1500 block of 39th Street. A newspaper ad said, “Selling for less than one-half of original cost.”
A final insult, Moreing Field was renamed Cardinal Field. A windstorm blew the place apart in 1938.
R.E. Graswich can be reached at email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.